Airplane Graveyard of World War II in Pacific Ocean

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Brandi Mueller, a Merchant Mariner licensed by the U.S. Coastguard, captured incredible photos of an airplane graveyard containing over 150 Allied WWII aircraft, lying 30 feet under the Pacific Ocean near the Marshall Islands, more specific Kwajalein Atoll, Roi-Namur. Kwajalein Atoll is an incredible diving site but also an restricted military base.

In a perfectly executed World War II mission that took place at the end of January 1944, U.S. forces defeated the Japanese at a little-known outpost in the Marshall Islands called Kwajalein Atoll. As part of the effort to win control of this crucial gateway to the Japanese empire, U.S. aircraft bombarded Japanese supply ships in the lagoon at Kwajalein for several weeks prior to the attack, sinking most of them, some still at anchor, and others as they attempted to escape.

Little is left of the battle of Kwajalein except these silent wrecks still lying at the bottom of the lagoon where they were defeated, out of sight and forgotten until now. After the war no one would’ve had interest in the aircraft and no scrap yards nearby, they were dumped here rather than shipping them back to the United States, as it was a cheaper solution.

They call it the “Airplane Graveyard” – they aren’t war graves or planes that crashed. They were planes that were taken out over the reef and pushed off intact after the war ended”, said Brandi Mueller, “They should have flown more, lived longer, but they were sunk in perfect condition.”

The airplane graveyard include several Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers, F4U Corsairs, TBF/TBM Avengers, Helldivers, B-25 Mitchells, Curtiss C-46 Commandos and F4F Wildcats.

The Airplane Graveyard

The North American B-25 Mitchell was an American twin-engined, medium bomber manufactured by North American Aviation. It was named in honor of Major General William “Billy” Mitchell, a pioneer of U.S. military aviation. Used by many Allied air forces, the B-25 served in every theater of World War II and after the war ended many remained in service, operating across four decades. (Source: Wikipedia)

A U.S. Army Air Force North American B-25C Mitchell bomber (s/n 41-12823) in flight near Inglewood, California (USA)

A U.S. Army Air Force North American B-25C Mitchell bomber (s/n 41-12823) in flight near Inglewood, California (USA)

Wreckages of the B-25 Mitchell:

WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)

WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)B-25 MitchellWWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)The Grumman TBF Avenger was a torpedo bomber developed initially for the United States Navy and Marine Corps, and eventually used by several air and naval aviation services around the world. The Avenger entered U.S. service in 1942, and first saw action during the Battle of Midway. Despite the loss of five of the six Avengers on its combat debut, it survived in service to become one of the outstanding torpedo bombers of World War II. (Source: Wikipedia)

Photograph of the sole surviving Grumman TBF-1 Avenger (BuNo 00380, side number 8-T-1) of U.S. Navy Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8) on Midway's Eastern island, shortly after the Battle of Midway, on 24 June 1942.

Photograph of the sole surviving Grumman TBF-1 Avenger (BuNo 00380, side number 8-T-1) of U.S. Navy Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8) on Midway’s Eastern island, shortly after the Battle of Midway, on 24 June 1942.

Wreckages of the Avenger:

WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver was a carrier-baseddive bomber aircraft produced for the United States Navy during World War II. It replaced the DouglasSBD Dauntless in US Navy service. The SB2C was much faster than the SBD it replaced. (Source: Wikipedia)

Aerial view of SB2C in upper landing circle showing USS YORKTOWN, below. July 1944. (Navy)

Aerial view of SB2C in upper landing circle showing USS YORKTOWN, below. July 1944. (Navy)

Wreckages of the Helldiver:

WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)The Curtiss C-46 Commando is a transport aircraft derived from a commercial high-altitude airliner design. It was used as a military transport during World War II by the United States Army Air Forces and also the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps, which used the designation R5C. Known to the men who flew them as “The Whale,” the “Curtiss Calamity,” the “plumber’s nightmare” and, among ATC crews, the “flying coffin,” the C-46 served a similar role to its counterpart, the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, but was not as extensively produced. At the time of its production, the C-46 was the largest twin-engine aircraft in the world, and was the largest and heaviest twin-engine aircraft to see service in World War II. (Source: Wikipedia)

Curtiss C-46 "Commando" in flight

Curtiss C-46 “Commando” in flight

Wreckages of the C-46 Commando:

WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)The Grumman F4F Wildcat was an American carrier-based fighter aircraft that began service with both the United States Navy and the British Royal Navy (as the Martlet) in 1940. First used in combat by the British in Europe, the Wildcat was the only effective fighter available to the United States Navy and Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater during the early part of World War II in 1941 and 1942; the disappointing Brewster Buffalo was withdrawn in favor of the Wildcat and replaced as units became available. (Source: Wikipedia)

A U.S. Navy Grumman F4F-3 in non-specular blue-grey over light-grey scheme in early 1942. Note modified pitot tube of the later F4F-4 model, moved from the leading edge of the wing to an L-style mount under the wing.

A U.S. Navy Grumman F4F-3 in non-specular blue-grey over light-grey scheme in early 1942. Note modified pitot tube of the later F4F-4 model, moved from the leading edge of the wing to an L-style mount under the wing.

Wreckages of the F4F Wildcat:

WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)The Douglas SBD Dauntless was a World War II American naval scout plane and dive bomber that was manufactured by Douglas Aircraft from 1940 through 1944. The SBD (“Scout Bomber Douglas”) was the U.S. Navy’s main carrier-borne scout plane and dive bomber from mid-1940 through mid-1944. The SBD was also flown by the U.S. Marine Corps, both from land air bases and aircraft carriers. The SBD is best remembered as the bomber that delivered the fatal blows to the Japanese carriers at the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

A VB-5 SBD from Yorktown over Wake, early October 1943.

A VB-5 SBD from Yorktown over Wake, early October 1943.

Wreckages of the Douglas SBD Dauntless:

_DSC7811

WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)

WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)

Douglas SBD Dauntless

WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)The Chance Vought F4U Corsair was an American fighter aircraft that saw service primarily in World War II and the Korean War. Demand for the aircraft soon overwhelmed Vought’s manufacturing capability, resulting in production by Goodyear and Brewster: Goodyear-built Corsairs were designated FG and Brewster-built aircraft F3A. From the first prototype delivery to the U.S. Navy in 1940, to final delivery in 1953 to the French, 12,571 F4U Corsairs were manufactured by Vought, in 16 separate models, in the longest production run of any piston-engined fighter in U.S. history (1942–53). (Source: Wikipedia)

An early F4U-1 showing the "birdcage" canopy with rearwards production cockpit location. Compare with the XF4U-1.

An early F4U-1 showing the “birdcage” canopy with rearwards production cockpit location. Compare with the XF4U-1.

Wreckages of the F4U Corsair:

WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)DSC7749

WWII Airplane Graveyard (Credits: Brandi Mueller for Argunners)

Vought F4U Corsair

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Argunners Magazine is an independent online historian and collector's magazine, dedicated to the militaria and history of both Axis and Allied powers during the World War 1 & 2. Argunners is a central resource offering the latest militaria and war history news, journals, articles and press releases related to these themes.

41 Comments

  1. Very good site , I enjoy reading about such things and the pictures help narrate the story
    This article has a few pictures in the wrong section SBD3 & 5 dauntles where it should be a TBF Avenger ,
    But very enjoyable thank you !!

  2. Hi, I was stationed in Korea in 1953-1954, I flew on C-47(Gooneybird) as a crewchief, this was a wonderful aircraft, also had C-46’s, C-54 and C-119 at the base I was at which the pilots called C-119 a flying coffin. The Korean pilots flew P-51’s.

  3. On a similar note, my father was in the United States Navy and served in the Pacific Campaign. He saw new staff cars, jeeps, trucks, etc. dumped into deep water from naval vessels. These vehicles were disposed of this way because if they’d been brought back to the USA the influx of all these surplus military vehicles would have caused problems for the automobile manufacturers that were already struggling.

  4. What a wonderful forum……great commentary that answered questions presented and supported the enjoyment of all. Wish the rest of the net was like that……

  5. The aircraft noted on this page as the Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat and as the TBF Avenger were incorrectly named on this series of truly wonderful Navy combat aircraft.

    These aircraft were, in fact, the Eastern Aircraft FM-2 Wildcat and the Eastern Aircraft TBM Avenger. Because Grumman needed to mass-produce more than 12,000 F6F Hellcats (and later, much smaller numbers of the F7F Tigercat and F8F Bearcat), the production of the F4F and the TBF were shifted to Eastern Aircraft – which was a General Motors-owned aviation production company created to produce Navy aircraft under license to Grumman.

    The Navy’s designation for combat aircraft included the first letter (for type of aircraft – F-for-fighter and TB-for-torpedo bomber) and the last letter (G for Grumman and M for General Motors-owned Eastern Aircraft). Because G was already taken (Grumman), instead of G-for-General, the Eastern Aircraft-manufactured Navy combat aircraft designed by Grumman were designated M-for-Motors for Eastern Aircraft-manufactured Navy Combat aircraft.

    This designation system remained in use by the Navy until 1962, when the obsessive Sec-Def Robert McNamara insisted that all Navy, Army, Coast Guard and Air Force aircraft of the same type had the same designation (a single letter for combat type (for instance, F-for-fighter or A-for-attack). While both the Wildcat and Avenger had been retired from service by 1962, planes used by both the Navy and Air Force, such as the Navy-designed/McDonnell-manufactured F4H Phantom II became the Navy/Air Force-used F4 Phantom II and the Douglas A4D Skyraider became the A1 Skyraider). Note that McDonnell and Douglas later merged, but only after the new designation system had been adopted.

  6. My father was a back-seat gunner in the SB2C (which they called the “Son of a B*tch 2nd Class”) on the old straight deck Midway (CVB-43, if I recall correctly). In 1944 or 45, they received the F-4U, but they wouldn’t let him fly them. He was an AOM, or Aviation Ordnance man…loader, I think. It was a let-down for him to go from being a gunner to being a loader. On the other hand, it was nominally safer, since the war was nearing the end, and the Japanese were running out of kamikaze pilots. And planes. Here’s a story about a SB2C that crashed into a lake near where I lived in San Diego, which they later recovered. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2010/aug/20/world-war-ii-helldiver-bottom-lower-otay-lake/

  7. I was stationed at Kwaj for 1 1/2 years. I have many photos of the airplane graveyard, Prince Oigen and many of the different Maru ships. Let me know if you would like some of them. Brandi is a very good diver and I have seen some of her other photos. Excellent photographer

  8. Dave Craddock on

    Argunners, wow you folks have some nice war memorobilia and you seem to welcome contributors,. I was two years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked, but I’ve read a lot about the war, the politics and the battles, but I don’t tire of reading or hearing about it.
    Please keep up the good work !

    • Dear Dave Craddock, thanks for your most kind reply! We do and contributors – readers are important to us especially as we would like to share (accurate) historical information so that people who are willingly to learn more about something, are history enthusiasts or would like to teach themselves with more knowledge are on a good address at Argunners. Feel free to visit Argunners daily and we also have a Facebookpage where we upload photographs with background information each day: http://www.facebook.com/argunnersmagazine. Thanks again.

  9. My father worked in East Hartford, CT for Pratt & Whitney on every “Major”, “Wasp” and other radial piston engines produced for the war. He was a machinist who inspected them during production. Most of these aircraft were equipped with Pratt & Whitney engines as far as I know. He was a young boy who experienced World War One in Europe and the Russian Revolution, and was exempt from the service but proudly performed his duty at home during the war effort. I had 4 uncles who served. 3 in the Pacific Theatre and 1 in Europe. I was only 4 years old when VE and VJ occurred, but will never forget watching Movietone Newsreels with my folks just to possibly get a glimpse of one of them, hoping that I would see them again.

  10. We currently have an Army Garrison out there on Kwajalein Atoll; USAGKA. There are several preserved artifacts from the fight for Kwaj; bunkers, shore batteries, etc, etc. Plus the lagoon is full of stuff. The OD team comes across old UXOs all the time. It is rated as the #4 best dive site in the world for wreck diving. The Prinz Eugen wreak is in the lagoon. Been there once and will go there again later this year. Want to get dive certified before I go again!!!!!

    • Diving the Prinz Eugen was one of my personal highlights from growing up out there. Also liked diving the Japanese wrecks, K-2, K2 side, the Japanese seaplane base, etc. We once dug a BBQ pit in our backyard and unearthed an unexploded mortar round and a handful of Japanese coins.

  11. It’s a shame they were wasted like that, but apparently they have become very nice artificial reefs. At 130 feet, they should also be only a moderately difficult dive.

    • It’s at the very edge of what you can dive using standard compressed air. However it’s in the protected area of the lagoon, so very low tidal action or current and usually excellent clarity make it a very do-able dive site. Only takes a few minutes to reach the area once you leave the pier.

  12. My father was a engineer at Curtis Wright met my mother there she was a real Rosie riveter my father or mother could have built that plane pictured !!

  13. There is just something about these ghosts of a horror story. How on earth are they still standing? No tidal current there or something? Just awesome. They look to be in fairly deep water.. (ie 30m+) How I would love to dive that!

    • 130 feet is just about 40 meters.

      The one that’s still upright is an F4U, so that may have to do with the fact that the Corsair was extremely nose-heavy due to it being the largest engine available in the smallest frame that could hold it at the time of its inception (this concept was repeated in the design of the Bearcat).

    • Suresh Kumar Bista on

      It is hard to believe and sad to see those perfectly good flying airplane going into their suicidal doom. Sometimes, it is very difficult to comprehend the thinking process of men. ‘Create to destroy’.

    • I grew up at Kwajalein lagoon and trust me, it’s got one of the biggest SCUBA clubs in the world. I made dozens of dives on the wrecks there. One catch, it’s a restricted military base, so you need to be a contract employee stationed there to be able to dive on the ships and planes.

  14. Suresh Kumar Bista. on

    Great collections of pictures. Loved looking at those airplanes found at the bottom of the sea.

    • Douglas Pearce on

      At the end of the war, the US had tens of thousands of warplanes that were suddenly surplus to requirements: with the fighting done, nobody wanted them anymore (and after the economic strain of financing a global war, nobody could really afford them). Many aircraft that were completed too late to see service were flown directly from the assembly line to the scrap yard, but for a lot of aircraft already overseas it was determined that it would cost more to ship them back to the US than they would bring in scrap value. So if they couldn’t be scrapped locally they were often buried or dumped into the ocean to prevent them being put to *bad* use.

      • That, and the rapid technological advancements made them virtually obsolete with the onset of the jet age.

      • This was common in the Pacific, but it was also way too common in the European theater. For instance, the P-47 Thunderbolt and the B-26 (Marauder, not Invader) were scrapped by the thousands in Europe. While the B-26 had the lowest rate of damage among operational bombers in Europe, it was deemed “surplus” and scrapped in massive numbers. Ditto for the European Theater P-47, which was deemed less serviceable than the P-51 Mustang.

  15. John Brownjohn on

    There were many serviceable complete aircraft pushed overboard from carriers of the coast near Sydney after the war ended. Understand that this action was IAC with the US lend lease agreement

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